U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) renewed the bipartisan effort to create jobs for rural Oregonians this week by asking once more for congressional hearings on forest health and renewable biomass energy legislation introduced last year.
In a letter to committee chairmen, Walden and a bipartisan group of colleagues from forested states write that "we are concerned with the lack of oversight hearings aimed at addressing the issues that threaten our federal forests, particularly as we approach wildfire season."
"Over the last few years, we have been lucky in Oregon, Washington and other forested states to have not faced devastating fire seasons despite the fact that our federal forests are still overcrowded, plagued with disease, and ready to burn," the letter states. "Once again, we could be facing a destructive fire year. We respectfully request that the committees immediately hold oversight hearings to examine the state of our federal forests and request that you develop policies aimed at improving the health of our forests."
The letter was signed by Walden and Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.). The letter was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.
The group also asked once more for hearings on legislation they introduced last year: H.R. 4233 and H.R. 4227. The members originally requested hearings in January but never received a response.
"Another fire season approaches and Congress has still not taken action to give the federal foresters and scientists the tools they need to bring the forests back to health," Rep. Walden said. "We can create jobs, revenue, and healthier forests on federal lands if only the right policies are put into place in the nation's capital. Our legislation is bipartisan and can help put people back to work, and it deserves a hearing."
The bipartisan bills would give federal foresters and scientists the tools they need to do landscape-scale restoration work to bring the forests back into balance with nature, and also create incentives to help jump-start the renewable biomass energy market.
The bipartisan legislative effort of H.R. 4233 and H.R. 4227 seeks to:
Oregon holds one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Many counties in rural Oregon are well above the state and national averages where choked federal forests dominate the landscape -- push 15 or even 20 percent
Bring forests back to health
In 2003, Congress passed the strongly bipartisan Healthy Forests Restora¬tion Act. Where
implemented, it has reduced the incidence and severity of catastrophic wildfire. Since the bill was signed into law, however, wildfires have burned more than 40 million acres in the United States, an area larger than North Dakota, and have devastated habitat, water sources, and communities in the West.
Now, professional foresters and scientists have asked Congress for the same successful tools provided in HFRA to use outside the 1.5-mile-wide, donut-shaped Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), that surrounds communi¬ties, where forests are most at risk of catastrophic wildfire and where the biggest fires start.
The bill would provide the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management clear authority to use the proven-to-work tools in HFRA to address areas of highest risk of catastrophic fire.
Jumpstart the clean biomass energy market
This legislation would help the renewable biomass energy industry plant firm roots by encouraging universities, public schools, hospitals, local governments and Native American tribes at non-gaming facilities to install or convert to clean biomass energy, heating or cooling systems.
The full text of the bipartisan letter that the members sent this week is below:
Dear Chairman Peterson, Chairman Rahall, Ranking Member Lucas, and Ranking Member Hastings:
We are writing to follow up on our letter of January 13, 2010 that requested a legislative hearing on two important bipartisan bills that promote job creation and healthy forests. Given that we have not received a response to our request, we again write to strongly urge the committees to hold legislative hearings on the Healthy Forests Restoration Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 4233) and the Incentives to Increase Use of Renewable Biomass Act of 2009 (H.R. 4227). Both bills represent extensive bipartisan collaboration and reflect the urgent need to implement common sense policies that will allow our federal land managers to better manage our nation's federal forests.
We are concerned with the lack of oversight hearings aimed at addressing the issues that threaten our federal forests, particularly as we approach wildfire season. Over the last few years, we have been lucky in Oregon, Washington and other forested states to have not faced devastating fire seasons despite the fact that our federal forests are still overcrowded, plagued with disease, and ready to burn. Once again, we could be facing a destructive fire year. We respectfully request that the committees immediately hold oversight hearings to examine the state of our federal forests and request that you develop policies aimed at improving the health of our forests.
We believe that the federal forests could be better utilized to provide a steady and affordable supply of clean woody biomass energy. Our forests could be the home to new jobs that could help sustain our rural infrastructure. That is why we introduced H.R. 4233 and H.R. 4227.
We appreciate your attention to these important matters and look forward to your response. Congressional oversight on the state of our federal forests and legislative hearings on H.R. 4233 and H.R. 4227 cannot wait any longer.
Representative Greg Walden is the House Republican Leadership Chairman and represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon.